How to Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation

A Step-by-Step Plan to Relax Your Body

Progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce social anxiety.
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Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is an anxiety-reduction technique first introduced by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the 1930s. The technique involves alternating tension and relaxation in all of the body's major muscle groups.

If you have an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety disorder (SAD), your muscles are probably tense quite often. By practicing PMR, you will learn how a relaxed muscle feels different from a tense muscle.

Progressive muscle relaxation is generally used along with other cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, such as systematic desensitization. However, practicing the technique alone will give you greater control over your body's anxiety response.

If you practice this technique correctly, you may even end up falling asleep. If so, congratulate yourself on obtaining such a deep level of relaxation, and for the work that you did up to that point.

For those with medical conditions, consult your doctor before beginning any relaxation training exercise.

Uses for Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation can be helpful for a range of reasons, including:

  • Anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Lower back pain
  • Migraine
  • Muscle tension
  • Neck pain
  • Stress

Chronic stress and anxiety can contribute to various health problems. Health complications linked to chronic stress include depression, diabetes, heart disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Progressive muscle relaxation can also be part of a toolbox of stress management techniques that can improve health and well-being in the long term.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Steps

Find a quiet place free from distractions. Lie on the floor or recline in a chair, loosen any tight clothing, and remove glasses or contacts. Rest your hands in your lap or on the arms of the chair. Take a few slow even breaths. If you have not already, spend a few minutes practicing diaphragmatic breathing.

Now, focus your attention on the following areas, being careful to leave the rest of your body relaxed.

  1. Forehead: Squeeze the muscles in your forehead, holding for 15 seconds. Feel the muscles becoming tighter and tenser. Then, slowly release the tension in your forehead while counting for 30 seconds. Notice the difference in how your muscles feel as you relax. Continue to release the tension until your forehead feels completely relaxed. Breathe slowly and evenly.
  2. Jaw: Tense the muscles in your jaw, holding for 15 seconds. Then release the tension slowly while counting for 30 seconds. Notice the feeling of relaxation and continue to breathe slowly and evenly.
  3. Neck and shoulders: Increase tension in your neck and shoulders by raising your shoulders up toward your ears and hold for 15 seconds. Slowly release the tension as you count for 30 seconds. Notice the tension melting away.
  4. Arms and hands: Slowly draw both hands into fists. Pull your fists into your chest and hold for 15 seconds, squeezing as tight as you can. Then slowly release while you count for 30 seconds. Notice the feeling of relaxation.
  5. Buttocks: Slowly increase tension in your buttocks over 15 seconds. Then, slowly release the tension over 30 seconds. Notice the tension melting away. Continue to breathe slowly and evenly.
  6. Legs: Slowly increase the tension in your quadriceps and calves over 15 seconds. Squeeze the muscles as hard as you can. Then gently release the tension over 30 seconds. Notice the tension melting away and the feeling of relaxation that is left.
  7. Feet: Slowly increase the tension in your feet and toes. Tighten the muscles as much as you can. Then slowly release the tension while you count for 30 seconds. Notice all the tension melting away. Continue breathing slowly and evenly.

Enjoy the feeling of relaxation sweeping through your body. Continue to breathe slowly and evenly.

With time and practice, you'll be able to perform this process to quickly induce a wave of relaxation passing through your body.

Efficacy of Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation can have a range of benefits, including reduced anxiety and better sleep. Some areas where research has found PMR to be helpful include:


A 2021 study found that progressive muscle relaxation was effective for inducing relaxation. The results indicated that this effect was immediate, which makes it an ideal choice when you need fast anxiety relief.


Since PMR helps induce relaxation, it can also be a valuable tool for managing stress. One 2022 study found that an abbreviated progressive muscle relaxation intervention significantly reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It also led to reductions in self-reported stress levels.


Because progressive muscle relaxation relaxes the mind and body, it can also be helpful as a sleep aid. In one study, researchers found that PMR was helpful for people experiencing high anxiety levels and low sleep quality. Participants who practiced three 20- to 30-minute sessions of PMR had significantly better sleep and less anxiety than those in the control group.

Pain Relief

Anxiety and stress can also contribute to muscle tension that causes or worsens pain. Research indicates that progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce neck pain, lower back pain, and migraines.


Progressive muscle relaxation can be a helpful tool for reducing symptoms of anxiety. It can also help people manage stress, improve sleep, and combat pain.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Tips

When practicing progressive muscle relaxation, following some helpful tips can also be useful:

  • Wear comfortable clothing: While you can practice PMR anytime, dressing comfortably may help you relax more fully. Try wearing lightweight, loose clothing.
  • Set aside 15 to 20 minutes to practice.
  • Do PMR is a quiet, comfortable location that is free of distractions.
  • Breathe deeply while you do PMR. Make sure that you are not holding your breath or breathing shallowly.
  • When you first begin, make it a point to practice when you are feeling calm. This will make it easier to relax your body.

You might also consider using a voice recording, such as the free MP3 audio file offered by McMaster University, with directions on practicing progressive muscle relaxation. The use of an audio recording allows you to relax and concentrate on the technique fully.

You can also find guided voice recordings on YouTube, podcasts, and mobile apps.

A Word From Verywell

Relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation can be helpful for mild to moderate anxiety. It can be particularly helpful when practiced alongside traditional treatment such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or medication.

However, if you are experiencing significant symptoms of anxiety or chronic stress, it is essential to consult with a doctor or other mental health professional to obtain suitable treatment.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Progressive muscle relaxation.

  2. Toussaint L, Nguyen QA, Roettger C, et al. Effectiveness of progressive muscle telaxation, deep breathing, and guided imagery in promoting psychological and physiological states of relaxationEvid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2021;2021:5924040. doi:10.1155/2021/5924040

  3. American Psychological Association. Stress effects on the body.

  4. Chellew K, Evans P, Fornes-Vives J, Pérez G, Garcia-Banda G. The effect of progressive muscle relaxation on daily cortisol secretion. Stress. 2015;18(5):538-544. doi:10.3109/10253890.2015.1053454

  5. Harorani M, Davodabady F, Masmouei B, Barati N. The effect of progressive muscle relaxation on anxiety and sleep quality in burn patients: A randomized clinical trialBurns. 2020;46(5):1107-1113. doi:10.1016/j.burns.2019.11.021

  6. Lauche R, Materdey S, Cramer H, et al. Effectiveness of home-based cupping massage compared to progressive muscle relaxation in patients with chronic neck pain--a randomized controlled trialPLoS One. 2013;8(6):e65378. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065378

  7. Mateu M, Alda O, Inda MD, et al. Randomized, controlled, crossover study of self-administered Jacobson Relaxation in chronic, nonspecific, low-back painAltern Ther Health Med. 2018;24(6):22-30.

  8. Meyer B, Keller A, Wöhlbier HG, Overath CH, Müller B, Kropp P. Progressive muscle relaxation reduces migraine frequency and normalizes amplitudes of contingent negative variation (CNV)J Headache Pain. 2016;17:37. doi:10.1186/s10194-016-0630-0

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."